Official discomfort

This first appeared as a Comment in the 10 September issue of Flight International

The worrying thing about India’s AgustaWestland AW101 scandal is how unsurprising it is. Big defence purchases anywhere are rarely smooth, but in India they seem to be particularly accident-prone.
At its heart are allegations – denied, of course – that AgustaWestland bosses bribed Indian air force leaders to modify the requirements for the purchase of 12 VVIP helicopters. Early this year investigations in Italy prompted a further probe in India. Two AgustaWestland executives are now standing trial over the matter.
But the steady drip-drip of bad news continues. This week India’s government auditor issued a damning report on the acquisition process.
But this fiasco – unlike other defence procurement travesties in India – will ­directly affect New Delhi’s senior leadership.
Having received just three AW101s, India has suspended the deal, and could well cancel it altogether. The grounding of the new fleet will oblige worthies including the president and prime minister to resume the use of ageing Mil Mi-8s.
At stake in the AW101 crisis are not key issues like operational readiness and deterrence, but the comfort of senior government leaders.  Perhaps riding in obsolescent, deafeningly loud helicopters will provide the spur they need to bring greater transparency and accountability to India’s defence acquisition process.

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